Altered Cortical Thickness and Tract Integrity of the Mirror Neuron System and Associated Social Communication in Autism Spectrum Disorder

Hsiang Yun Chien, Susan Shur Fen Gau, Yung Chin Hsu, Yu Jen Chen, Yu Chun Lo, Yao Chia Shih, Wen Yih Isaac Tseng

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


Previous studies using neural activity recording and neuroimaging techniques have reported functional deficits in the mirror neuron system (MNS) for individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). However, a few studies focusing on gray and white matter structures of the MNS have yielded inconsistent results. The current study recruited adolescents and young adults with ASD (aged 15–26 years) and age-matched typically developing (TD) controls (aged 14–25 years). The cortical thickness (CT) and microstructural integrity of the tracts connecting the regions forming the classical MNS were investigated. High-resolution T1-weighted imaging and diffusion spectrum imaging were performed to quantify the CT and tract integrity, respectively. The structural covariance of the CT of the MNS regions revealed a weaker coordination of the MNS network in ASD. A strong correlation was found between the integrity of the right frontoparietal tracts and the social communication subscores measured by the Chinese version of the Social Communication Questionnaire. The results showed that there were no significant mean differences in the CTs and tract integrity between the ASD and TD groups, but revealed a moderate or even reverse age effect on the frontal MNS structures in ASD. In conclusion, aberrant structural coordination may be an underlying factor affecting the function of the MNS in ASD patients. The association between the right frontoparietal tracts and social communication performance implies a neural correlate of communication processing in the autistic brain. This study provides evidence of abnormal MNS structures and their influence on social communication in individuals with ASD. Autism Res 2015, 8: 694–708.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)694-708
Number of pages15
JournalAutism Research
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Dec 1 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • autism spectrum disorder
  • cortical thickness
  • diffusion spectrum imaging
  • mirror neuron system
  • social communication
  • tractography
  • white matter integrity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Genetics(clinical)


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